Monday, March 14, 2011

Henrietta's Tumor: My First "Scientific" Post and Writing Outside Your Niche

henrietta lacksI don't normally consider myself a science writer, or even someone who might cover scientific trends for a consumer audience. But when I had recently had the opportunity to write about Henrietta Lacks for Bay Area PR specialist Lisa Ann Pinkerton, I was thrilled, not only because the more research I did the more excited I became about the topic, but also because it enabled me to go outside my comfort zone. (I typically blog on social media, communications, writing, small business, as many of you know).  
The more I learned about Henrietta Lacks, and how her self-diagnosed tumor paved the way for modern biomedical research, the more I became fascinated with her story, particularly since I had never heard of Henrietta, or indeed how many modern vaccines evolved. Writing the piece made me realize that science offers a great jumping off point for countless topics today --bioethics, health and wellness, or illness, family relationships, etc. I also learned that Henrietta's story has been documented in a recently published book by Rebecca Skloot that's getting a lot of buzz,  called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." (affiliate link below) 

I can tell that this book is absolutely a must-read, as the author delves into all the mysteries, dilemmas, joys, and painful aspects of Henrietta's story. I also heard Rebecca talk about the story and the book in a Radiolabs interview on WNYC, and she was thoroughly captivating, as she described Henrietta's horrific discovery of her own tumor, and then the nearly accidental discovery by physicians during the 1950's, that her cells had the ability to replicate. In fact, they were used to help develop the vaccine for polio, right around that time.

So, without further ado, you can check out my post here, and please leave a comment either here or on Lisa Ann's site, on your thoughts regarding this fascinating story.

Oh, and one more footnote for writers -- while having a niche is great, it's also important to be versatile. If I had discounted this assignment from the start as "not my area," I probably never would have heard about Henrietta's fascinating and haunting story! Food for thought as you approach future writing assignments and editorial projects.


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